Imagine a world between Heaven and Hell where glorious, heavenly, eternal beings attempt to convince opaque, weak, near-sighted ghosts that they need to let go, admit their guilt, and give up their false-hopes and false-loves in order to become solid, real, and joyful. This is the allegorical world of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.
One scene in the book was especially difficult, but also very impacting. A pair of ghosts appear, an ugly dwarf dragging a tall, thin man along by a chain. The unlikely duo are met by an incredibly beautiful woman who knows them, but who has discovered true life in God, and has become real and solid.
As she approaches it is the tall ghost that speaks, but it is the dwarf that the woman looks at and addresses. We quickly learn that the reason for this is she knows that the tall man, who behaves very much like an overly dramatic actor, is not the real soul, but the image the dwarf gives the world to see. The scene is both silly and grotesque as the woman persists in speaking to a dwarf who persists in keeping his mouth shut while speaking through an all-too-real facade.
As they converse we discover that the dwarf-ghost and the woman are, in fact, husband and wife. We also discover that the dwarf cannot let go of his tall actor because he cannot let go of pity. He desires so much the attention and self-satisfied high that he gets from being pitied, from making others feel bad about wronging him, or about unfortunate circumstances in his life. He cannot forget the time his wife used the last postage stamp with (in his mind) no thought for his plans for writing and sending a letter, though she had already asked for forgiveness for this and all her wrongs against him. It is not an apology he wants, but to be pitied, to make her and others feel guilty and sad over him.
So, the dwarf-man keeps his actor, his portrayal of an abused, misunderstood, over-worked and under-appreciated husband. In the end, in fact, the dwarf shrinks and shrinks until he is swallowed by the actor, until he becomes the actor. He is no longer able to differentiate between his real self and his fake self. So he refuses, in this way, to join his wife in the journey to the high countries of Heaven where all guilt and pity would be drowned in the overwhelming grace and love of God.
Some say that the first step toward God’s forgiveness is to forgive yourself, but Lewis’ idea is much deeper than that. The important step is to learn to let others, and, ultimately, God, love you for you. It is not enough to seek attention by putting on a show of wealth, fashion, or self-pity. We cannot accept God’s free gift of grace if we cannot accept the possibility of being loved just for being human.
We don’t need to hide behind facades, hoping to put on a good enough show to merit attention. Your friends, if they are friends, will love you because of you. Your God, because He is God, will love you because He made you. To believe differently is as silly as that wife attempting to talk to her husband while he insists on speaking to her through a puppet.
But, this is only the first step in understanding love. The next step is to love others because they exist rather than for their personalities, sense of style, charisma, education, nationality, or morality. The next step is to see and speak to the real persons rather than to their actors-on-a-leash.